In the summer of 2013 I spent 2 weeks at Wildwood, Kent, collecting data for my masters project and doing work experience with the conservation team in my spare time.
My project was centred around dormouse whisker use and jumping ability. I devised and made (with a little help) two identical experimental arenas, which in conjunction with motion sensor, infrared, trail cameras, allowed us to test how far dormice will jump. Along with my supervisor, I also took high-speed footage of dormouse running around in a flat portable arena.
Once the high-speed footage had been taken, and it was just the jumping experiment being run, all I had to do was check, adjust and switch on/off the cameras each day so I had plenty of time to help out around Wildwood. My tasks included feeding the water shrews who are unbelievably loud! They get so excited when you dump the live crickets into their tank, they all start squeaking in chorus. I also noticed that they squeak at each other when they’re scrapping, whether over food or anything else.
Another task was feeding, watering and cleaning out the water voles. As a small mammal enthusiast it was wonderful to get to see so many water voles up close, even if they were (mostly) behind a mesh fence. I say mostly because wildwood does have the occasional escapee; they chew their way through the wire in hidden corners of the cage, so the first we know of it is when we go to clean it out and find no voles! But while I was there, one of these recent escapees had obviously decided he wasn’t actually that keen on the wild because he hung around the yard and sniffed at the voles in the cages.
My other main task was helping out with bat rehabilitation and public flying shows. I’d stand in the cage holding the detector so the public on the other side of the mesh could hear the echolocation, while Hazel encouraged one bat at a time to have a go at flying. My job was to stand still and keep an eye on where they landed – it’s surprisingly easy to lose a juvenile pipistrelle even in a small flight cage! Once the bats were tired, we’d pop them back in their bags around our necks, and both answer any questions the public had.
Completing work experience at wildwood was a wonderful experience and I would have loved to have stayed longer. I didn’t only learn about the practical aspects of breeding programs, but also about the day to day tasks and running of a conservation team.